Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors

Citation266 F.3d 979
Decision Date28 December 2001
Docket Number99-17186,Nos. 99-15602,s. 99-15602
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)

Paul F. Utrecht, Law Offices of Paul F. Utrecht, San Francisco, California, for plaintiff-appellant Sprewell.

Richard R. Dale, Law Offices of Richard R. Dale, Mill Valley, California for plaintiffs-appellants Thompson, et al.

Jeffrey A. Mishkin (Argued), Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, New York, New York, for the defendant-appellees.

Frank Rothman (On the Briefs) and Marie L. Hurabiell (On the Briefs), Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Los

Angeles, California, for defendant National Basketball Association.

Martin P. Moroski (On the Briefs), Sinsheimer, Schiebelhut & Baggett, San Luis Obispo, California, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Vaughn R. Walker, District Judge, Presiding, D.C. No. CV-98-02053-VRW, D.C. No. CV-98-02053-VRW

Before: Dorothy W. Nelson, David R. Thompson, and Stephen S. Trott, Circuit Judges.


TROTT, Circuit Judge:

The Opinion filed on November 7, 2000, and reported at 231 F.3d 520 (9th Cir. 2000), is withdrawn.

The panel as constituted above has voted to grant the petition for rehearing without further oral argument and to issue a new opinion. With this decision and action, the previous opinion filed November 7, 2000, becomes inoperative, and the pending petition for rehearing en banc becomes moot. The parties, should they so choose, are at liberty to file new petitions with respect to the new opinion.



Latrell F. Sprewell ("Sprewell") challenges the district court's dismissal of his claims against the National Basketball Association ("NBA") and the Golden State Warriors ("the Warriors") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)"). Sprewell's attorneys dispute the district court's imposition of sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 11"). Sprewell raises numerous state and federal claims challenging the validity of the punishments meted out by the NBA and the Warriors in response to Sprewell's physical attack on the head coach of the Warriors in 1997. The district court dismissed Sprewell's federal claims as frivolous, and found Sprewell's state claims to be preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("section 301"). We have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We AFFIRM in part, REVERSE in part, and REMAND.


Sprewell joined the NBA in 1992 as a guard for the Golden State Warriors. During Sprewell's tenure with the Warriors, he played under four different head coaches, the last of whom was P.J. Carlesimo. Sprewell's star-crossed relationship with Carlesimo, while amicable upon its inception in June of 1997, 13296.quickly deteriorated over the ensuing six months to the point that both Sprewell and the Warriors openly entertained the possibility of trading Sprewell to another team.

Tensions between Sprewell and Carlesimo climaxed during a closed-door practice on December 1, 1997, during which Carlesimo told Sprewell to pass the ball to a teammate for a quick shot. Despite Sprewell's contention that he passed the ball "admirably, as one would expect of an All-Star," Carlesimo rebuked Sprewell for not putting more speed on his pass. When Carlesimo subsequently repeated his criticism, Sprewell slammed the ball down and directed several expletives at Carlesimo. Carlesimo responded with a similar showing of sophistication. Sprewell immediately either walked or lunged at Carlesimo and wrapped his hands around Carlesimo's neck. With his arms fully extended, Sprewell moved Carlesimo backwards, saying "I will kill you." Carlesimo offered no resistence. Sprewell grasped Carlesimo's neck for approximately seven to ten seconds -- the time it took for other players and coaches to restrain Sprewell. Sprewell then left the practice floor, saying "trade me, get me out of here, I will kill you," to which Carlesimo countered, "I am here."

After showering and changing, Sprewell returned to the practice facility to again confront Carlesimo. Despite the efforts of two assistant coaches to restrain him, Sprewell was able to approach Carlesimo and throw an overhand punch that grazed Carlesimo's right cheek. Sprewell landed a subsequent blow to Carlesimo's shoulder, but it is uncertain whether it was intentional or the product of Sprewell's attempt to free himself from those restraining him. As Sprewell left the facility, he again told Carlesimo, "I will kill you."

That evening the Warriors suspended Sprewell for a minimum of ten games and expressly reserved its right to terminate Sprewell's contract. Two days later, the Warriors exercised that right and ended Sprewell's reign as a Warrior. The NBA subsequently issued its own one-year suspension of Sprewell after conducting an independent investigation of the matter.

On December 4, 1997, Sprewell invoked the arbitration provisions of his collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") by filing a grievance challenging both his suspension by the NBA and the Warriors' termination of his contract. The arbitrator held nine days of hearings, received testimony from twenty-one witnesses, accepted over fifty exhibits, and was presented with over 300 pages of pre- and post-hearing briefs. The arbitrator found that the dual punishments issued by the NBA and the Warriors were permissible under the CBA, but found that: (1) the Warriors' termination of Sprewell's contract was not supported by just cause because after the Warriors' initial suspension of Sprewell, any residual interest of the Warriors was absorbed by the NBA's investigation of the matter; and (2) the NBA's suspension should be limited to the 1997-98 season.

On May 20, 1998, Sprewell filed the instant suit. The district court dismissed Sprewell's complaint without prejudice pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and instructed Sprewell's counsel to sign any subsequently filed amended complaint in accordance with Rule 11. Failing to heed the admonitions of the district court, Sprewell filed an amended complaint that paralleled the original. The district court found the amended complaint to consist of "the same baseless claims previously dismissed by the court" and ordered Sprewell's attorneys to pay the NBA's and the Warriors' attorneys' fees pursuant to Rule 11. Sprewell asks that we reverse the ruling of the district court.


In his complaint, Sprewell leveled a multitude of claims against the NBA and the Warriors, including: (1) a request for 13298.vacatur of the arbitrator's opinion pursuant to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act; (2) intentional interference with freedom to make and enforce contracts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) conspiracy to violate freedom to make and enforce contracts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); (4) conspiracy to interfere with the arbitral process by producing false evidence; (5) violation of common law right to fair procedure; (6) interference with prospective economic advantage; (7) interference with contractual relations; (8) violation of California's Unruh Act; (9) civil conspiracy; and (10) unfair business practices pursuant to California Business and Professional Code §§ 17200 and 17500. The NBA and the Warriors maintain that their actions were justified under the CBA and that Sprewell's state law claims fall within the preemptive penumbra of section 301.

A. Count 1: Vacating the Arbitration Award

Sprewell seeks to vacate the arbitration award pursuant to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185 et seq. ("section 301"). Section 301 empowers this court to review an arbitration conducted under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. See United Steelworkers of Am. v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Co., 363 U.S. 593 (1960).

Judicial scrutiny of an arbitrator's decision in a labor dispute "is extremely limited." Sheet Metal Workers Int'l Ass'n, Local No. 359 v. Arizona Mechanical & Stainless, Inc., 863 F.2d 647, 653 (9th Cir. 1988). The Supreme Court has instructed that "as long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority, that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his decision. " United Paper-workers Int'l Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987). We have followed suit in holding that "so far as the arbitrator's decision concerns construction of the contract, the courts have no business overruling him, because their interpretation of the contract is different than his." San Francisco-Oakland Newspaper Guild v. Tribune Pub. Co., 407 F.2d 1327, 1327 (9th Cir. 1969) (per curiam).

Notwithstanding the foregoing, we have identified four instances in which the vacatur of an arbitration award under section 301 is warranted: (1) when the award does not draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement; (2) when the arbitrator exceeds the scope of the issues submitted; (3) when the award runs counter to public policy; and (4) when the award is procured by fraud. See SFIC Properties, Inc. v. International Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, Dist. Lodge 94, 103 F.3d 923, 925 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotations omitted); Chiron Corp. v. Ortho Diagnostic Sys.,...

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